Analysis: Can Tom Cleverley be a success at Everton?

Despite Aston Villa’s clear determination to sign him on a permanent basis at the end of his season-long loan spell, Tom Cleverley’s move to Everton from Manchester United always looked to be on the cards; the midfielder’s contract at Old Trafford having not been renewed.

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It is fair to say that there is still plenty for Cleverley to do to convince his many detractors that he is of sufficient quality to hold down a place at a top Premier League club, and be a regular in the England squad. His recent call-up for the friendly against the Republic of Ireland and the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier with Slovenia proves that he still retains the faith of Roy Hodgson that he can deliver at the highest level.

Indeed, the faith managers and coaches have shown in the 25-year-old has been noticeable throughout his career, especially as it has often been at odds with the opinions of footballing observers. The fact that the British game’s most successful manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, believed that Cleverley was worthy of a regular starting place in his title-winning teams cannot be ignored, nor can his status this season as being one of the first names on the Aston Villa team-sheet regardless of who was leading the side.

And that belief in Cleverley has now extended to Goodison Park, where manager Roberto Martinez has clearly been an admirer for some time. The five-year contract handed out to the player is a clear indication that Everton see him as a key figure in their attempts to a regain their place in the Premier League’s top six and return to fighting for Champions League qualification, but if he does not turn out to be a success, there will be some tough questions to be answered.

The first task for Cleverley next term is to become a regular in the starting XI, which looks set to be a keenly contested battle, given the amount of competition for a midfield place that already exists at the Merseyside club. As things stand, Gareth Barry, Ross Barkley, Muhamed Besic, James McCarthy, Darron Gibson and Leon Osman could all lay a claim to a place in the team, so the new arrival will have his work cut out if he wants to establish himself quickly.

A key question regarding this move is what happens when Everton hit a poor run of form. Cleverley is very much a confidence player, and often performs to a higher standard when his teammates are on song. His effort can never be faulted, but in the past when things have been going wrong collectively at either Man Utd or Villa he has not looked like a player who is capable of providing any kind of inspiration and thus has become a target for criticism – most notably during David Moyes’ tenure with the Red Devils and the subsequent petition calling for him to be ‘banned’ from the England squad.

Moving to Aston Villa was very much a case of trying to restore his self-belief, and to some extent his reputation. It took him a while to hit his stride as the club looked likely to succumb to relegation until the end of February, but the encouragement and motivation of new boss Tim Sherwood eventually brought about an improvement, as he made a decisive contribution by scoring in three consecutive games and helping the West Midlands side to stay in the top-flight.

But there is still plenty of work to be done to change the minds of those who doubt him. We are yet to truly discover an outstanding feature of Cleverley’s play, as he is not renowned for his passing, pace, goalscoring or his technique, but in Martinez he has a manager who will believe in him and stand by him at every opportunity. There is surely a lot of quality there to be shown, but for now at least, Tom Cleverley will remain one of the biggest enigmas currently present in English football.

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